IT is welcome news that the Government is to extend the “plastic bag tax” so that it covers small retailers as well as the supermarkets. The cost of a single use bag will rise from 5p to 10p.

This approach has been a success. The number of bags given away by supermarkets has fallen 86 per cent since 2014, from 7.6bn a year in 2014 to 1bn a year. This shows that even the paltry price of 5p has caused people to stop, think and change their habits – there can be very few of us who do not have a “bag for life” secreted about our person or car.

Small retailers, though, still give out 3.6bn bags a year, so it is easy to see why the scheme is being extended.

That there are so few complaints about the tax is because we recognise that single use bags are a waste of resources and also a danger to wildlife.

But while we’ve taken 6.6bn plastic bags out of circulation each year, the pandemic has introduced a new plastic menace: the non-biodegradable mask. One estimate – and it is only an estimate as this is all so new – is that the UK is using 1.6bn of these masks each month, or 54.5m a day. Globally, that’s 129bn a month, or three million every minute.

And, although there are washable alternatives, many of them can be found on the roadsides of south Durham and North Yorkshire.

It seems pointless putting up the bag tax when we are cluttering up the planet with so many masks.